SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN by Lisa See
Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book'Em
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(March 1, 2007) Snow
Flower and the Secret Fan is a short work of fiction by Lisa
See, which brings its reader to a remote province in 19th century China.
Lily, its narrator, chronicles her "daughter days," "hair pinning days,"
and "rice and salt days," from her dotage or "sitting quietly days." Her
narration is the author's vehicle for the portrayal of historical, cultural
and societal events and traditions of the time and place.
The central thread of Snow flower and the Secret Fan
revolves around the lao-tong or "old same" relationship of Lily
and Snow Flower. Emotionally bound to one another at the age of seven,
they will share the passage of their lives in person or through a form
of secret women's writing, nu-shu, when apart. Book-'em members
found this an engaging story. However, our real appreciation of this novel
was for its unveiling of the traditions, practices, superstitions, obligations
and dynamics of these Chinese women's lives.
Perhaps it is better not to look at the story itself too closely. There is little nuance or depth to the individual women. They are Cinderella, one a pre-glass slipper and the other a post-glass slipper character. And that image of "the smallest foot in the land" is apt as well since the girls' initiation into womanhood via the binding of their feet is easily the most compelling part of this book. Several members said they were unable to read all of the detailed depictions of this ritual. "I could literally feel their agony," said one reader.
Our conversation focused on the physical process, consequences and significance of the bound foot. How could a mother subject her child to such agony? But what choice did she have? The societal oppression of women and cultural versus biological determinants of beauty were some of the ideas we pursued. We also talked about the absence of coming-of-age rituals in our own society. Americans today lack a proscribed marker or acknowledgement of "adulthood."
Overall, our discussion may have been more substantive than the actual
novel. That may be one of the most rewarding aspects of book club membership!
It would be worthwhile having a member of your group ready to present
some research on lao-tong relationships, foot binding and its
origins, in-law dynamics, and other practices described, if this aspect
of Snow Flower would appeal to your members. The book
can also be read as "a good story," "not the highest quality of literature
but holds a reader's interest," "interesting and readable." Snow
Flower and the Secret Fan's look at a culture, though, is its
FROM THE EDITORS: Find reviews contributed
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